What would you do if you knew this would be your child's last Christmas, regardless of their age or what's going on in your life?
What if it turned out that his last Christmas was already behind you?
What if I could have Ethan back for one last Christmas, knowing it were the last one? How many times are we celebrating one last Christmas when we don't even know it at the time?
Why did our last conversation have to be me telling him that I couldn't see any way to give him the expensive gift he most desire when he was so badly in need of day to day essentials? But then, why did Christmas come to mean gifts and financially straining ourselves to give those gifts that we should sometimes say no to? Would I really feel better if that gift he had wanted were sitting unopened under the tree?
Somehow on his journey through addiction, my poor, broken boy had forgotten about everyone but himself. I think that's a common trait of addiction. He blew off Mother's Day, which I was really looking forward to, because he had just moved into his apartment and met a girl (and was probably high). He blew off Thanksgiving, which his nieces were eagerly anticipating, probably because he was still angry with me for telling him I knew he was using and I was not going to fight or make an issue over it. It would probably have required the presence of that gift under the tree to get him to sign on for Christmas.
If I could have had anything I wanted for Christmas, it would not have come from a box, it would have been time with him clean and sober, just one more day, one last Christmas. Now with this year's holiday breathing down my neck, all I can cling to is the memory of Christmases past -- when I did have the gift he wanted; a violin one year, a new Nintendo or game.
The gift I would have wanted is as unreachable as the gift he wanted, even if I'd had his present wrapped under the tree. He wouldn't be here to open it.
Monday was a really tough day. I don't know that it would be one bit easier at some other time of the year, but I do know there wouldn't be this feeling that I need to force some joy into moments that right now aren't filled with joy. I know that routines that help me navigate my week and balance my needs with the needs of the little people in my life are being doubly derailed by death and the holiday and I'm just not sure from one minute to the next how I'm going to hold it together.
Christmas Eve, when the family has for the last several years gathered at my house, is a week away. How am I going to pull myself together for that? How are my parents going to do it? And Ethan's sister?
But just as I'd been trying to focus on what was right about the holiday -- mainly three little girls with beaming smiles who slammed into me with wide arms this morning yelling "I love you, Ma" -- I know that this focus is one I'll have to use to get through the coming weeks. Not everyone in the world is grieving because I am and I can let their joy infect me rather than letting my sorrow pull them down.
We're never promised another birthday, Christmas, or even just another morning to say hello to the ones we love. Somehow, instead of letting the pain of what is missing from the holiday ruin it, I have to let the joy of what is there carry me through. I have to muster up the energy to wrap the gifts stuffed in closets and the man cave. I have to buy and cook the holiday ham.
Just like much of today has been, I have to go through the motions until they feel right. Because I know, eventually, they will.
Sometimes, I know I'm going to falter like I did today when I abandoned the dinner table to take shelter in the bathroom so two little girls wouldn't see me cry, again. Sometimes I'll laugh at the story of the baby's diaper blowout, or smile at getting a dance step right in Zumba, and have a little more faith that it will get better.
This is a rocky road I'm walking, but it's a road that too many of us can suddenly find ourselves on without any warning signs.
So I'm just urging you to treat this Christmas and every Christmas as one last Christmas -- not to be loaded down with gifts that aren't the real meaning of the holiday any way -- but to hoard memories and photographs that will make the day live again for many Christmases to come. Make Christmas really count and wrap your love tight around the people you care about.
Just in case it's someone's last Christmas.